May 20, 2003
Jonathan Foreman of the New York Post, who earlier did a
piece on how the rest of the media were downplaying expressions
of affection for Americans among Iraqis (a story several pro-war
readers helpfully emailed to me), that the United States seems to
be blowing the occupation, you know things can't be going especially
well in Baghdad. The Post was as militantly pro-war as any
paper in the country. But its reporter, who a few days earlier was
so eager to point out signs of pro-U.S. sentiment, seemed a little
down in the dumps about bureaucratic incompetence.
column last Friday, Foreman quotes Sgt. Johnny Perdue of the
4/64 Scouts, the outfit with which he was embedded, thus:"We
ain't helping these people. It's just so f---ing frustrating. ORHA
[Organization for Reconstruction and Humanitarian Aid, the troubled
agency civilian proconsul L. Paul Bremer officially heads] say they're
doing it. Well, they're not doing it in the places we go."
also talked to another soldier: "'I'm no bleeding heart,' says
Sgt. Leon "Pete" Peters (who had more than his share of
kills during the fighting south of the city). 'I'll pull the trigger
quick as anyone. But this place is going to go crazy if we can't
find a way to help these people ... I've been here for more than
30 days and I've yet to see a single yellow humanitarian food package.'"
twits Bremer for saying, in a news conference last Thursday, that
"more Iraqis have access to electricity than ever before."
Foreman's comment: "This laughable untruth will diminish his
credibility with the locals."
assuming, of course, that he had any credibility with the locals
apparent failure to establish even the rudiments of what passes
for civilized order in the semi-modern world – electricity, running
water, an occasional deterrent against looting and other acts of
criminality – let alone anything resembling significant moves toward
a semi-indigenous Iraqi government or the trappings of a civil society,
is only a piece of what is shaping up as a massive failure to validate
any of the justifications for war employed by American leaders during
the run-up to war.
haven't brought democracy, and last week Mr. Bremer announced that
it would be even longer than he originally thought before any significant
aspects of governance and administration would be turned over to
actual Iraqis. We haven't quite gotten to the point we were a few
years ago in Bosnia, when former President Clinton kept offering
estimates of how much longer U.S. troops would have to stay on the
ground there – three months, six months, a year, 18 months, then
dropping the subject as U.S. troops remained (to this day) – but
it is almost as ludicrous.
democracy was the "final answer" once the war had actually
begun, the high-minded-sounding real purpose of an attack on a country
that did not directly threaten the United States and had not actively
threatened its neighbors for years. Before that U.S. spokesmen actually
talked of an active nuclear-weapons program. Then they talked about
weapons of mass destruction (a clever PR category that is more propagandistic
than descriptive). Before that U.S. strategists were just sure as
they could be that there were direct links between Saddam Hussein
along, U.S. war advocates assured us that the invasion was necessary
to prevent future terrorist acts here and abroad. The more cautious
of them refrained from guaranteeing that the invasion would reduce
terrorist incidents to zero, but they strongly implied, in their
usually weasel-worded pronouncements, that terrorist activities
would diminish once we had eliminated the nasty regime in Baghdad
that was sponsoring – or might sponsor if we didn't get on it right
away – terrorist activities on a frightening scale.
of these justifications for war have panned out. And it's just possible
that significant portions of the American people are starting to
the more persuasive indictments of the weapons-of-mass-destruction
arguments was Seymour Hersh's article in the New Yorker last
weak about the Office of Special Plans in the Pentagon, conceived
by Asst. Sec. of Defense Paul Wolfowitz and headed by Abram Shulsky,
a former Senate Intelligence Committee, Pentagon and RAND Corporation
staffer. According to Hersh:
relied on data gathered by other intelligence agencies and also
on information provided by the Iraqi National Congress, or I.N.C.,
the exile group headed by Ahmad Chalabi. By last fall, the operation
rivaled both the C.I.A. and the Pentagon's own Defense Intelligence
Agency, the D.I.A., as President Bush's main source of intelligence
regarding Iraq's possible possession of weapons of mass destruction
and connection with Al Qaeda. As of last week, no such weapons have
been found. And although many people, within the Administration
and outside it, profess confidence that something will turn up,
the integrity of much of that intelligence is now in question."
Office of Special Plans was something like the "Team B"
group put together by anti-communist activists and scholars in the
1970s, when they were convinced that U.S. intelligence agencies
were underestimating the threat posed by the Soviet Union and communism
in general. That team was given access to much of the "raw"
data the C.I.A. and other agencies were using to develop their assessments
and reports, and came up with conclusions suggesting that the official
agencies had missed significant threats or downplayed evidence of
aggressive actions or intentions.
OSP similarly took intelligence data available to the C.I.A. and
just interpreted it differently. It's not difficult to see how this
could happen. Most intelligence data are at least somewhat incomplete
and ambivalent. The significance can often depend on the assumptions
one brings to the task of analysis. When the OSP folks looked at
information, they tended to see as confirmation of weapons of mass
destruction at a particular site what others might view as shaky
or even countervailing evidence. That, of course, was what administration
spokesmen wanted to hear, so the reports from the outfit that gave
them pro-war ammo came to be viewed more favorably.
almost none of the information has panned out. Special forces even
went in to several of the sites identified as holding WMDs before
the "real" war began, and found nothing.
a number of reasonably well-connected conservatives in Washington
– not in the administration but in several of the policy lobbies
that operate in the Imperial City – with whom I was talking last
week about other issues pointed out Hersh's article to me. Some
said it changed the way they thought about how policy had been made
in recent months and how justifiable the war was. One friend suggested
that the war with Iraq would almost certainly prove to be the high
point of neoconservative influence in the Bush administration.
only can the neocons not carry a single precinct (and quite visibly
lusted after anybody but Bush before it became obvious that Bush
had secured the GOP nomination), but they set up an "intelligence"
operation that systematically fed top officials faulty intelligence
that may yet come back to be a major embarrassment. Supposedly,
the Bushies are aware of the warlust problem and are determined
not to trust these people again.
that may be true, but so far the administration hasn't moved to
fire Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith or any of the other prominent neocons
in top Defense policy positions. Richard Perle, after a possible
conflict-of-interest scandal threatened, removed himself from the
chairmanship but remains a member of the defense policy advisory
board. And it is possible that the desire to take out Saddam was
not just something force-fed on President Bush by a clever cabal
of conspirators, but what he wanted to do with or without the faulty
intelligence. He may have a similar attitude about North Korea,
although so far the administration has been a bit more circumspect
in dealing with Kim Jong Il.
still not ruling out that some chemical and biological weapons or
the means to produce them might be found in Iraq. Iraq is, after
all (as administration spokesmen must be getting tired of reminding
us) a big country with lots of potential hiding places.
the efforts to date suggest strongly, however, is that the notion
that caches of chemical and biological weapons were readily available
and just maybe on the verge of being deployed against the U.S. or
U.S. "interests" (very broadly defined) was a falsehood
from the get-go. Military and intelligence people have already been
to most of the places identified by intelligence reports of variable
validity, and to some identified by more recent defectors and detainees.
would have been the weapons that could have been actually deployed
in a reasonable amount of time. Weapons that might be found in the
future, almost by definition, would be those that would have taken
time, trouble and resources before they could be effectively deployed.
There simply was no threat that could even be stretched to be viewed
as imminent. The war was – and was almost certainly known by its
perpetrators to be – a war of choice rather than necessity.
there's the wave of terrorist activities during the last week or
so. Riyadh. Casablanca. Five suicide bombings in three days (or
two depending on how you measure them) against Israel.
the war supposed to bring about a noticeable reduction in such activities?
is too early, and it would probably be too facile to say that the
U.S. invasion of Iraq actually caused any of last week's terrorist
attacks or made any of them more likely than they would have been
in the absence of the invasion. Further investigation – some arrests
have already been made, but the process is just beginning – might
tell us with a bit more accuracy whether the invasion was at least
a partial motivator for some of these acts, or whether any of them
might have been prevented had not U.S. attention been diverted toward
military adventures in Iraq. It is also possible, of course, that
we will never know for sure just what lies behind some of them.
is not difficult to conclude, however, that the war failed to reduce
the likelihood or intensity of terrorist attacks. Thus on that level
it failed to accomplish what its sponsors hoped it would accomplish.
WMDs, no really close al-Qaida connections, no reduction in terrorist
attacks, no democracy in Iraq, no demonstration of U.S. competence
at administration or the provision of humanitarian aid, no example
for the rest of the Middle East to emulate. And the possibility
of changes in American attitude as these truths begin to sink in.
do you like your war now, Mr. President?
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